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Book review: 『ファーストラヴ』by Rio Shimamoto

Introduction

Title: 『ファーストラヴ』(First Love)
Author: Rio Shimamoto 島本理生
Published by 文春文庫
367 pages

『ファーストラヴ』is a mystery novel that won the Naoki Prize in 2018, one of the most prestigious prizes for popular fiction.

I never read Rio Shimamoto before, and I chose 『ファーストラヴ』because it won the prize.

There is an NHK drama adaptation of the novel and a film adaptation is scheduled for 2021, see more here.

Review

I will say it plainly, I did not like 『ファーストラヴ』. Even though it won the prestigious Naoki Prize, this novel clearly has flaws to me.

The plot of the novel is about the young Kanna who was arrested for the murder of her father. Our protagonist is the psychologist Yuki Makabe who is writing a nonfiction book about Kanna.

The plot surrounding the murder was interesting and clever. I enjoyed seeing the investigation unfold and this is what kept me reading.

However, I found that the characters had no depth at all and were not interesting. This is particularly true concerning our protagonist, who is also the narrator. I already mentioned it in my reading journal when I first talked about this novel, but it just did not feel like this book is written from the first-person perspective, and it took me a while to get used to the author’s writing style.

At some point, I even started to seriously dislike our protagonist Yuki, and reading became a chore. I couldn’t see what made her apt to write this book about Kanna. We don’t see her work on it or even think about it in a professional way, and I never thought that she was particularly good in her field. More than once, I found the questions she asks clumsy and irritating.

There is also a mechanism that I very often dislike when it appears in mystery novels: when the author deliberately retains information concerning the main character’s past only to create more mystery to the reader. To me, the real mystery is the one that both the reader and the protagonist do not know. If there are constant hints about a previous relationship between two characters, but if the account of it only appears late in the novel, I feel frustrated and ultimately lose interest. The relationship between two characters in 『ファーストラヴ』is presented to the reader in this manner, which I found irritating.

As a result, the parts of the novel that were not about the case were very boring to me. I just did not care about the characters. Even the murder case, which was interesting in itself, suffered a little from the character of Kanna, who I did not find interesting either.

When I read crime fiction, I never expect the characters to have a deep or complex personality or to be allotted long descriptions. I am easily satisfied with credible characters and a good plot. But in 『ファーストラヴ』, I really felt that something was missing.

Another thing that I did not like in the novel is the way different scenes succeed one another without anything binding them together. It looks like nothing happened between two scenes. I mean, just a sentence is enough to link two separate events or even just localise events in time. In 『ファーストラヴ』, it was sometimes hard to tell when a scene took place. Was it the day after the previous part? several days after? what had happened in between? Some scenes that were not directly related to the case felt pointless and unconnected to me, they come out of nowhere and lead nowhere. I found this particularly annoying, and I thought several times of putting the book aside for good.

I have watched the trailer of the NHK drama, but it did not make me want to watch it. However, I will keep an eye on the film adaptation. As I said, the plot was good, so I think that it could be great on screen.

Maybe I was expecting too much from this novel because it won the Naoki Prize…? It is rare to read mystery novels that satisfy me 100%, but even if the end was not so good, even if I saw flaws here and there, even if some events were not credible, as long as it was entertaining I consider that the novel has done its job. If I had fun reading a mystery novel, I will write an overall positive review and just mention the things that I did not like. But I did not even enjoy reading 『ファーストラヴ』…

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